I've complained before about the relatively unexciting list of Oscar nominees for Best Picture, and going along with that, there's been a clear enthusiasm gap associated with this year's awards. Surely, every year there are complaints that the Academy has gotten too arty or too snobby. In fact, most pundits trot out a couple common examples of the Oscars "getting it wrong" in the past, presumably as a way of urging the audience not to get too bent out of shape.
At the top of that list is Annie Hall and Woody Allen beating out Star Wars and George Lucas for "Best Picture" and "Best Director" in 1977. I know there's going to be a temptation to take a cheap shot at Lucas based on post-prequel hatred, but you have to remember that in the context of 1977, what he did was incredibly revolutionary. Star Wars changed the face of film and cast a much longer shadow than Annie Hall. Seemingly the Academy valued intimacy over scope.
And yet, in 1982, E.T. lost to Gandhi. An epic bio-pic trumped what was then the most popular movie of all time. E.T. was emotional, it was accepted by a wide audience and it had heart. Gandhi was... "important." When was the last time you got the urge to watch Gandhi? How many of you even own it on DVD?
Here's what really irks me about this film snobbery - it values a few aspects of filmmaking while completely discounting the artistry of the others. It's not "Best Picture due to Most Emotional Performances," "Best Picture that Tackles a Social Issue and Reduces It to a Simplistic, Insulting Thesis or Solution," or "Best Picture due to Most Character Driven Screenplay." It's "Best Picture." Period. But I guess if you can make an audience cry or make them feel something "deep" like, "Wow, that was really bold to say that 'racism is bad and hurtful,'" it's enough to negate hours of blood and sweat spent elsewhere.
Popcorn movies. That's what they call films that never will get Oscars simply because they dared to be popular. True, often these films have serious deficiencies in story and acting. (Paging Michael Bay.) But what about the films that are grand adventures, that take action to new heights, propelled by a structurally strong script? The performances might not contain some overwrought emotional catharsis, but you know what, sometimes it's just as difficult to keep characters consistent and compelling even without the crutch of letting the actor play a dibilitating mental disease or have to come to terms with the loss of a loved one.
Because it's really hard to cry on cue. Like hard.
You know what else is hard? Dangling a mile high in the air, tethered to a building while a helicopter swoops above you to get vertigo inducing shots. If that's so easy, you run down the outside of a mile-high glass building - WITHOUT the aid of a stunt double. Oh, and you have to stay in character completely which in this case means not losing your shit because "HOLY FUCK I'M A MILE ABOVE THE GROUND!"
Yeah, that's just as easy as acting befuddled or drawing on a memory of a childhood pet's death so you can shed a tear.
What Tom Cruise gives in Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol is a performance no less consistent than Meryl Steep in the Acclaimed Movie I Didn't See or what Gary Oldman did in The Movie I Saw And Thought Was Okay But Probably Never Will Need to See Again. Cruise says his lines, he stays in character and he makes us believe Ethan Hunt is real. He does what the script asks of him and he brings some of his own persona to it. Ditto for all of the supporting cast.
Now you can argue that Cruise didn't deserve a Best Actor nomination. I admit, it was a very competitive field this year. Then again, I don't see Christopher Plummer and Max Von Sydow doing this...
That should have been a full-page ad in Variety with the caption "For Your Consideration, Motherfucker."
But enough about Cruise, let's talk about the movie itself. It's visually stunning, both in the angles and in the staging of action - so that point goes to the director, Brad Bird. Oh, and did I mention this was his first live-action picture? Not bad for a neophyte, eh?
The story moves well, due to the solid structure that motivates the characters and the action scenes. It's also really well-paced, - credit to the writers and the editors there.
Also with the "visually-stunning" point - the visual and special effects are virtually flawless. Kudos to all the technical teams involved.
And acting-wise, was there anyone who wasn't convincing in their role? Down to the last man, they embodied their parts and did what was asked of them.
I look at everything that goes into making a film - particularly a film of this genre - and I struggle to see any glaring flaws. You might say, "Well, the characters just weren't as deep as The Descendants." Okay, fair enough...
But The Descendants had far less complex stunt/action scenes. The story had far fewer turns it had to sell. So should it get a pass simply because it was technically less ambitions that M:I - GP? Why can't Ghost Protocol get the same pass for its character arcs being less ambitious?
"Best Picture" means the whole picture - everything. And if more popcorn films got nominated, I wouldn't bitch about this because, hey, luck of the draw. This year we gave greater weight to the emotional than the technical. But that's not how it works. It seems you can entirely reinvent filmmaking on a technical level, attempt spectacle that's never been seen before, hold an audience at the edge of their seat for 2+ hours and in the end, all some ABC Family actress has to do is cry underwater to make all of that irrelevant.
Are The Artist and The Descendants really the best and most impressive examples of filmmaking this year? Or are they the "safe" choices that one can laud without fearing the loss of some kind of manufactured credibility? Brad Bird and Tom Cruise delivered a roller-coaster ride of filmmaking where the story was propelled by some solid lead characters and a really strong cast.
No gold statue will ever convince me that is any less of an achievement than any of the nine nominees for Best Picture.